Isaac’s marriage(40y), birth of children(60y), his last words(100y), his death(180y)
According to Gen 25:20, Isaac married Rebekah when he was forty years old. Rebekah could not have a baby for quite a long time, but she finally got pregnant. When she bore Esau and Jacob, Isaac was already 60 years old (25:26). When Esau married Judith and Basemath, two Hittite women, Esau was 40 years old, which makes Isaac 100 years old (26:34). That is the end of Genesis chapter 26, and Gen 27 begins with how old and weak Isaac was.
According to Gen 27, 100-year-old Isaac was facing his imminent death due to his old age. In Gen 27:2, Isaac says, ” I am old; I do not know the day of my death,” meaning he could die at any time. In verse 4, Isaac told his first son Esau to hunt game for him and make savory food out of it so that he may bless Esau before he dies. He was going to give his last wish to Esau. At that time, Isaac could not see very well; he couldn’t even recognize his sons’ faces. So when Jacob disguised himself as Esau, Isaac thought that it was Esau. After that, when Esau tried to kill Jacob, Esau said, “the days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob” (27:41). In Gen 27, Isaac is indeed about to die.
Strangely, however, Isaac did not die at the end of chapter 27 or in the next one. We don’t find his death report until chapter 35. In between, lots of things happened; Jacob left his hometown to avoid Esau’s revenge (or find his bride within his kin, unlike Esau who married Hittites); arrived at Paddan-aram; obtained four wives and 12 sons (and a daughter); and came back home. On his way home, he also had stayed Succoth, Shechem, and Bethel. (We do not know for how long he stayed at each place.) From Bethel, Jacob returned to Kiriath-arba (Hebron), where Isaac lives. Gen 35:27 records this journey, and in verse 28, Isaac dies at his age of 180 years. Then, it is assumed that Isaac had stayed alive for another 80 years since his last words/blessing.
Do these accounts on Isaac’s last words and his actual death reflect historical facts? “80 years” can be more than a lifetime for someone; It is hard to accept that Isaac had stayed alive for 80 years after his last words. It might be too challenging for conservative Christians to accept that biblical records could be different from actual facts. If one does not want to distort histories, however, one should seriously contemplate this matter with the objective perspective. Moreover, if we take biblical texts too literally or believe every single word in biblical stories represents exact historical facts, our interpretations can go wrong very much. For instance, it is not a blessing to live for another 80 years in the condition that Gen 27 describes Isaac had. Then, was he cursed with being unable to die or live? Then what sins of his caused such a miserable situation? A series of questions that literalism raises can unjustly make Isaac a sinner. Or one may misunderstand God. And maybe it is also possible to apply this insight to his/her own situations or even others’ and wrongfully interpret the current misfortunes as results of sins. I admit that it is not good to brand an interpretation as “incorrect.” However, one should also admit that literalism has substantial methodological flaws in understanding ancient texts like the Bible.